Like most Iowans, you are probably glad that the elections are over. While our television sets are now void of nasty television ads and the Republicans in the state legislature has selected its leadership teams, there is still one election that you should care about.
In January, the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa will elect someone to chair the Party through a busy two-year cycle that will involve a competitive presidential caucus.
There hasn’t been much movement on the chair election because it is still months away. One reason for the lack of activity in regard to the chairman’s election is that the current RPI chairman, Matt Strawn, has not indicated whether or not he would like to run for another term.
Strawn has received praise for his leadership of the party, and rightfully so. If he wants to run for another two-year term, he would offer the party some continuity that it has lacked in recent years. While not perfect, Stawn has excelled in building great relationships with Republican legislative leaders as well as implementing a stellar victory program.
Before candidates begin to announce their intentions of running for party chair, it is important for them and the Central Committee to realize the daunting task that lies ahead for the party. It will also be important for RPI to build on the successes it had in the 2010 election cycle while addressing the areas where it remains weak.
The 2012 election cycle will be far more difficult for RPI than the 2010 cycle was. The reason is simple – the First-in-the-Nation Caucuses are scheduled for early February in 2012. The presence of the caucuses basically makes it feel like there are two general elections squeezed into one election cycle.
After electing a chair and possibly new staff, party officials will have to immediately go to work at organizing the Iowa Straw Poll. While the event garners national media attention, it is also an important fundraiser for the party and serves a roll in protecting Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation status.
The Iowa Straw Poll is not an easy event to pull off. In January of 2007, I had initial planning discussions about the event before I was officially hired as RPI’s Political Director in February. As much time went into the planning and organization of that event as went into the caucuses themselves.
There is also a possibility that next year’s straw poll could be dramatically different from the straw polls of the past. Campaign finance reform and the increased costs to pull off an event of that magnitude have made modern straw polls more difficult. Regardless of what it looks like, it is important that Iowa Republicans once again pull off the largest political event in the country in the of year leading up to the caucuses.
After the Straw Poll, which typically takes place in August, there are only five months until the caucuses. While the party leans heavily upon its 99 county organizations, it has to ensure that certain procedures are followed and that the votes are tabulated in a way that ensures timely but accurate results.
While the news media likes to discuss a number of scenarios that could lead to Iowa losing it’s First-in-the-Nation caucuses, the surest way to put them in jeopardy is to have a problem tabulating the results on caucus night. Worse yet, a candidate could threaten a lawsuit over a disputed result or recount.
The caucuses are extremely important to the success and validity of the party, but so too is providing all local Republican candidates with a solid political apparatus that they can tap into. This is one of the areas in which Strawn and RPI succeeded.
The party’s victory program was a smashing success. While it has received some mention in the media, it probably hasn’t received all the attention and credit that it deserves. Now that the party has had a successful victory program, it’s vital that it maintains and expands its commitment to that program.
As always, RPI will need to raise substantial funds to pay for these programs and events. It is likely that the presence of a Republican governor who will want a Republican majority in the State Senate will be helpful in raising money for the party. Still, there is a lot of work to be done if Republicans want to add to their successes of 2010.
Chair elections often times end up being about both personality and political ideology. While I would never say that these things are not important, the long-term validity of the party depends on the party providing these necessary services to its candidates. That means electing someone who can lead, organize, and run the day-to-day operations of the business and functionality that is the nuts and bolts of the party. It also means selecting someone who is an efficient and effective spokesperson, who can keep the focus on the issues and the candidates rather than him or her self.
There are a number of people who have said that we shouldn’t put party above principle. While I typically would agree, there is an exception for those who work for the party itself. Being an ideologue is fine, but being an ideologue is not the only necessary quality for the next RPI chairman.
The person who the Central Committee selects to be its leader must be an excellent manager, organizer, and spokesperson, along with being right on the issues. The same is true of those who are hired to work for the party. They have events to organize, press releases to write, speeches to make, money to raise, and a whole host of other responsibilities for which they must be prepared. That’s what they are hired to do, and that shouldn’t be forgotten in the selection process.
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